It was late summer. Walker Hammond was getting excited for his senior season with the Steamboat Springs football team when he got what he thought was a cold.
Colds are a nuisance, and his wasn't going to keep him from August two-a-day practices. But the so-called cold worsened.
Steamboat Springs Sailors vs. Harrison Panthers
When: 7 p.m. Friday
Where: Memorial Stadium, Colorado Springs
Radio: 100.5 or 107.3 FM
"It got pretty bad," Hammond said. "After that, my mom called the doctor."
A blood test revealed Ham--mond had mononucleosis, or mono, a virus that sometimes can sideline athletes for months. Hammond didn't have months. He had one high school football season left, but he had no energy.
The primary concern with mono is the rare -- but serious -- possibility of rupturing the spleen, an organ that has functions that relate to blood.
Physical activity such as football practice puts the player at risk of rupturing the spleen.
"I missed all of two-a-days," Hammond said. "They said it could be as short as two weeks before you feel better or it could be more than a month."
Sailors coach Aaron Finch was in constant contact with Hammond and Hammond's parents, Kris and Becky Hammond, regarding Walker's condition.
"Me and his parents talked a lot -- what can he and can't he do," Finch said. "Walker is one of those kids with such a good work ethic that if he felt fine, he would go 100 percent, but he did a good job monitoring it maturely."
Hammond slowly started to return to practice. He was sent off the field early -- a lot. He did not play in the season opener against Aurora Central. He did not play Sept. 3 in the home opener against Arvada.
Hammond returned in limited action against Palisade on Sept. 9. He had six carries and finished with 19 yards. He was splitting time with senior Tanner Grimes at what the Sailors call their "z back," a position for a player who can pass and catch.
He played at less than full strength against Rifle and Moffat County -- both wins -- but then sophomore Jay Hanley, the leading rusher, went down with a hand injury after the win against the Bulldogs.
Hammond found himself as Steamboat's primary rusher Sept. 30 against Cortez. The timing was perfect. He finished with 87 yards on 13 carries.
"Against Cortez, I think I was healthy for the first time," he said.
The positive results continued. Hammond had 133 yards and three touchdowns on 16 carries against Battle Mountain on Oct. 7. Against Delta, on Oct. 28, he topped the 100-yard mark again.
Now, Steamboat has two rushers -- Hanley is wearing a quick cast but is healthy -- with speed but varying styles.
"They definitely are different," said sophomore Nigel Hammond, Walker's younger brother and starting linebacker. "Jay is more of a power runner. Walker uses speed and quickness."
Walker Hammond was one of the few returning starters Steamboat had coming into the 2005 season. The 5-foot-11, 165-pound senior was slated to start on offense and defense. Walker Hammond has regained his health but hasn't been forced to play every down. The surprise emergence of Nigel Hammond and Hanley -- both sophomores -- has allowed Walker Hammond to stay fresh, which helps him and the Sailors.
It has "been cool" to play with his older brother, Nigel Hammond said. Never once during his illness did Walker Hammond sulk.
"He thought he'd be back in a few games," Nigel Hammond said.
In eight games, Walker Hammond has 514 yards from scrimmage and four touchdowns.
Steamboat (8-2 overall) continues its season at 7 p.m. Friday with a first-round playoff game against Harrison (5-5) at Memorial Stadium in Colorado Springs.